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CNN Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees Transcript

Location: Middleton, WI

February 17, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: A Look at Wisconsin Primary; Hunting Osama

GUESTS: John Kerry, Joe Klein, Terry Holt, Gavin Newsom

BYLINE: Anderson Cooper, Kelly Wallace, Candy Crowley, Dan Lothian, William Schneider, John King, Miguel Marquez, Lucia Newman, Josie Burke, Wolf Blitzer

Interview with John Kerry. Then, hunting Osama.


COOPER: Thanks very much from camp Kerry. Joining us from Middleton, Wisconsin is Senator John Kerry himself. Senator Kerry, how confident are you tonight?

He will be here momentarily, we are told. Kelly Wallace reporting that they are cautiously optimistic about results tonight. The polls close in a little bit under two hours. John Kerry has been running hard all day. What you're seeing in the last few moments is him doing local TV interviews, trying to get out the vote because as we said, the polls continue to be open, and a lot of people, still, we're hearing, and we'll hear later on from our own analyst Bill Schneider, a lot of people still undecided up until the last few moments, the last several days of this campaign in Wisconsin.

It has been a hard fought campaign in Wisconsin. Howard Dean has really just staked a claim. Early on he had said it was do or die for him in Wisconsin. He said if he didn't win, he would leave the race. He reversed himself several days later. He has had trouble in the last several days.

We are joined now by Senator John Kerry in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Senator, how confident are you tonight of a win?

KERRY: Well, I'm not confident at all. What I am is cautiously hopeful and optimistic. I've been out working hard. I just came from downtown in Madison, outside the capitol, meeting voters.

And we really don't take anything for granted. You have to work for every vote. You have to go out and ask people, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

COOPER: Senator Kerry, I've heard you say: A win is a win. But how much do you have to win by tonight to really have it be a win that, sort of, propels you forward with momentum?

KERRY: Well, you know, you and others will make those decisions. Right now, the voters are still deciding who they may vote for. And I want to make it clear that I am the strongest candidate to take on George Bush.

Just today, I gather, he gave a speech on national security, calling himself a war president. We need a nominee of our party who has the ability to stand up to him and go to toe to toe and point out to Americans that we actually can fight a more effective war on terror, that I can make America safer than George Bush is making us today.

And I also know how to put people back to work. All over Wisconsin, people have lost jobs. People are worried about their health care. The president has no real plan. I do. And that's what's at stake in this race.

COOPER: Senator Kerry, how, as you look at people still going to the polls-and as you said, the polls are still open there-how concerned are you or your team about undecideds? There are a lot of people we're hearing who have not made up their minds, really, until the last couple of days and maybe even until they get into the poll room.

KERRY: Well, we're always concerned. I mean, that's exactly why I'm campaigning up until the last minute, because I want to continue to appeal to those people who may not have made up their minds.

I am the only candidate in this race who has a measurable, consistent, 35-year record of standing up against powerful interests in America, taking them on, making a difference in the lives of our country and-life of our country, and the lives of our country men and women. And I think that I also bring the national security, foreign policy and military experience at a time when America is threatened by terror and where we are at war and we need leadership that knows how to bring other countries to our side.

I can do a better job then George Bush, of leading America to reconnect to its own ideals and values, win our friends and allies back, win respect and influence and do a better job of making America safe.

COOPER: You have portrayed yourself as a candidate against special interests. The White House has put out an ad on the Internet saying that basically you have been beholden to special interests. You have received more lobbying money than any other senator in the course of your history. You've now responded with an Internet ad painting Bush as receiving a lot of money from PACs.

Is this an issue that you're going to continue hammering?

KERRY: Yes, I am going to continue to hammer it. And what the White House is doing is actually almost laughable. I mean, I really do find it amusing. There is nobody who knows me in Washington and nobody who has followed this issue who doesn't realize that I've been one of the leading champions in the United States Congress for campaign finance reform and for changing the way money affects American politics.

I'm the only United States senator who has been elected four times, who voluntarily has refused to ever take, in any one of my races, one dime of political action committee special interest money. And the only reason you see a lobbyist who might have contributed to me is because I refuse to take the political action committee money.

So they've given to me individually as individual Americans. And the total of all of that is about 1 percent, 1 percent of all of the money that I've raised in my lifetime in American politics.

I'm proud that it's average Americans who have elected me. I'm proud that I've said no to the political action committee money.

And if you look at George Bush and his crowd, they are the world champions in terms of special interest giveaways-the drug companies, the oil companies, Halliburton, the Enron scandal, the WorldCom scandal.

I mean, you start looking around at the creed of greed that this crony capitalism crowd has unleashed in America...

COOPER: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: ... and it tells an extraordinary story.

COOPER: Some tough words there. How tough is this campaign going to be? Already, these ads on the Internet by you, by the Bush re-election campaign, they're pretty tough, pretty nasty. Is this thing just going to get uglier and uglier?

KERRY: I responded to the Bush administration. Their first ad, the very first ad George Bush put up on TV that he took credit for as part of his campaign was a negative attack ad on me. And I've made it very clear: I will answer them.

Now, what I want to...

COOPER: Just to respond to that, though, Senator Kerry, the White House basically says or the election campaign says that for months now you and other Democrats have been targeting President Bush, have been saying nasty things, have been running a lot of ads. And they say...

KERRY: Well, if you consider...

COOPER: ... they're just responding to those.

KERRY: If you consider saying something nasty to be pointing out to Americans that the Bush administration took a Medicare bill for seniors and turned it into a $139 billion giveaway to the drug industry that forbids Medicare from even negotiating a bulk purchase price and forbids seniors for importing lower-cost drugs from Canada, if that's considered to nasty, then we're going to have a long campaign. Because that's an issue; that's exactly the kind of thing that Americans are upset about.

COOPER: Let's get back to the...

KERRY: There is nothing personal about that. That's exactly what they did.

COOPER: Let's get back to your fellow Democrats, though, for a second, if we could.

KERRY: Sure.

COOPER: I hate to interrupt. I know you're busy.

KERRY: No, I have time for you.

COOPER: Howard Dean, is it time for him to drop out of the race?

KERRY: That is not my decision. And I have great respect for what Howard Dean has done and accomplished in this race. It's simply not my decision to comment on any other candidate's choices at this point in time.

COOPER: His former chairman used to be very close to your campaign, has indicated that he would like to, in fact, join your campaign. Have you talked to him? We talked to him last night. Have you talked to him? Have you made overtures to him?

KERRY: Yes, some people in the campaign have chatted with him. I haven't had a chance to yet. But we obviously welcome everybody.

I mean, you know, you don't win the presidency by being exclusive. You have to be inclusive. And you try build as big a tent as possible.

I've been thrilled that Wes Clark has come on board, in what I thought was an extraordinarily gracious and generous way. Dick Gephardt, likewise, has come on board in a very classy statement and twice now has showed up at events with me.

Today, I was endorsed by the Alliance for Economic Justice. Later in the week, I'll be in Washington meeting with the AFL-CIO leaders.

I'm very pleased that we have a strong effort of uniting the party that is coming together. That's what you need to do to win.

And I'm not selectively picking one state or another to wage my campaign in. I'm waging my campaign all across the country in all of the states.

COOPER: If Howard Dean dropped out, would you be willing to debate John Edwards one on one?

KERRY: You know, I'll make decisions about where the campaign goes and where we head as we go down the road here. We have our own pretty intensive schedule over the course of the next days. And I'll just have to make decisions as we see.

We've got Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton and others in the race. And who knows what decisions anybody is going to make. I don't-what we need to do is get the returns from Wisconsin tonight and then keep on moving and keep on campaigning. And I make no presumptions about anything.

COOPER: But if John Edwards does have a strong showing tonight, would you be willing to take him on one on one? I mean, I know there are other candidates out there. They're polling pretty low. They haven't really won many places thus far. You know, the focus seems to be on you and...

KERRY: Well, we'll make decisions after...

COOPER: ... on John Edwards.

KERRY: I'm not going to deal with any hypotheticals. We'll deal as we go down the road.

COOPER: All right.

It is good to talk to you, Senator Kerry. It's a big night for you.

KERRY: Thank you.

COOPER: And we appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

KERRY: Thanks a lot. Happy to be with you.

COOPER: All right, thanks. And as we said, polls close in about an hour and 45 minutes, a little bit more than that, about 47 minutes. It is going to be a very interesting night of politics indeed.

Content and programming Copyright 2004 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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